Obama fails to address NSA encryption-defeating methods, backdoors

The president's speech focuses more on a telephone records collection program than on the Internet, critics say

U.S. President Barack Obama failed to address the National Security Agency's reported efforts to weaken encryption standards and circumvent online encryption technologies in a speech Friday about surveillance reform.

Obama's decision not to mention the NSA's anti-encryption efforts and its attempts to exploit backdoors in networks and computers was a major omission, some tech groups said.

In December, the Obama-appointed Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology made several recommendations focused on supporting strong encryption and other Internet security measures, noted Greg Nojeim, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Freedom, Security and Surveillance.

"The president didn't endorse any of them," Nojeim said.

The CDT published a score card Friday comparing Obama's recommendations to the review panel's.

The review group also recommended that the NSA, when it discovers security exploits, should share the vulnerabilities with developers. "The president didn't mention this recommendation at all, and that is troubling," Nojeim said.

"Obama missed an opportunity to speak to one of the biggest problems revealed in the surveillance disclosures," added Alex Fowler, global privacy and public policy leader at Mozilla.

A secure Internet is essential to protect free speech and privacy and for innovation and commerce, Fowler said by email. "For our government to work to undermine strong encryption, stockpile and maintain vulnerabilities, and promote backdoors in mainstream communications systems sacrifices individual and commercial security on the altar of intelligence gathering," he said.

The lack of a plan to address the NSA's anti-encryption efforts and its attempts to exploit backdoors will erode the confidence people have in the Internet, said Bob Hinden, chairman of the Internet Society's Board of Trustees. "You don't know who to trust," he said. "A lot more needs to be said about limiting that kind of surveillance to things that are necessary, and just not collecting it for collection's sake."

Obama's speech focused more on a telephone records collection program than on overseas Internet surveillance programs, Hinden said. NSA reforms need to recognize the negative effects that surveillance has had on the Internet, he said.

Obama's proposals took some positive steps "to restore confidence in how the U.S. government gathers intelligence and protects the privacy of individuals," said Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech-focused think tank. But the proposals didn't go far enough, he said in a statement.

Obama "should clearly and unequivocally state that the policy of the U.S. government is to strengthen, not weaken, cybersecurity and renounce the practice of having intelligence agencies work to introduce back doors and other vulnerabilities into commercial products," he said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Bob HindenInformation Technology and Innovation FoundationAlex FowlerU.S. National Security AgencyBarack ObamainternetprivacyDaniel CastromozillaintrusionsecurityCenter for Democracy and TechnologyInternet SocietygovernmentGreg Nojeim

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?